Northeast Times

Council member’s bill would curb mayor’s contract powers

City Coun­cil­man James Ken­ney in­tro­duced le­gis­la­tion on Thursday to void the may­or’s uni­lat­er­al powers to ap­peal con­tract ar­bit­ra­tion out­comes in­volving the city’s fire­fight­ers, para­med­ics and po­lice.

The meas­ure would take the form of a Home Rule Charter amend­ment and would re­quire an af­firm­at­ive vote of city res­id­ents on a fu­ture Elec­tion Day ref­er­en­dum to be­come law.

Lead­ers of the city’s fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics uni­on, Loc­al 22, ini­ti­ated the charter change ef­fort on Ju­ly 22 with the sup­port of many of the city’s polit­ic­al and labor lead­ers. The co­ali­tion ac­ted in re­sponse to the lengthy and costly leg­al chal­lenges waged by May­or Mi­chael Nut­ter against raises and oth­er be­ne­fits awar­ded to Loc­al 22 mem­bers through ar­bit­ra­tion in 2010 and again last year.

While one state law, Act 111 of 1968, pre­vents fire­fight­ers, para­med­ics or po­lice from go­ing on strike while grant­ing them the right to bind­ing ar­bit­ra­tion, a sep­ar­ate state law, the PICA Act of 1991, grants the city cer­tain rights to ap­peal Act 111 ar­bit­ra­tion out­comes.

As the Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion ap­pealed the 2010 and 2012 ar­bit­ra­tion awards, the city’s 1,900 fire­fight­ers and para­med­ics worked more than four years without a con­tract. City Con­trol­ler Alan Butkovitz has said that the ap­peals cost the city al­most $1 mil­lion in private leg­al fees.

On Sept. 6, Nut­ter an­nounced that he would with­draw the latest ap­peal and pay the raises and be­ne­fits awar­ded to Loc­al 22 mem­bers in 2012. But the uni­on and Ken­ney, along with sev­er­al of his coun­cil col­leagues, are now try­ing to en­sure that his­tory doesn’t re­peat it­self in fu­ture con­tract ar­bit­ra­tions.

“I think we need to have a dis­cus­sion why an in­di­vidu­al CEO of a com­pany — the may­or [in this case] — has the abil­ity to spend close to a mil­lion dol­lars in leg­al fees, paid for by the tax­pay­ers, with no con­sulta­tion with the board of dir­ect­ors, i.e. City Coun­cil,” Ken­ney said dur­ing a Thursday news con­fer­ence out­side coun­cil’s City Hall cham­bers. “If that was done in a private com­pany, there would be hell to pay with that kind of ex­pendit­ure.”

Ken­ney in­tro­duced two spe­cif­ic meas­ures on Thursday: a res­ol­u­tion pro­pos­ing the Home Rule Charter amend­ment to coun­cil, and an or­din­ance cre­at­ing the pub­lic ref­er­en­dum on the charter change ques­tion. The res­ol­u­tion con­tains the spe­cif­ic lan­guage of the pro­posed amend­ment, while the or­din­ance con­tains the lan­guage of the pro­posed bal­lot ques­tion. Un­der the pro­pos­al, any fu­ture ap­peals in­volving Act 111 ar­bit­ra­tion would re­quire coun­cil ap­prov­al by a two-thirds vote, as well as the may­or’s ad­min­is­trat­ive ap­prov­al.

Loc­al 22 Pres­id­ent Joe Schulle thanked the of­fi­cial co-spon­sors of the le­gis­la­tion, coun­cil mem­bers Den­nis O’Bri­en, Bri­an O’Neill, Bobby Hen­on and Mark Squilla as well as Coun­cil­wo­man Jan­nie Black­well for sup­port­ing the ini­ti­at­ive.

In con­junc­tion with the le­gis­la­tion, Loc­al 22 de­livered to coun­cil not­ar­ized pe­ti­tions con­tain­ing more than 35,000 sig­na­tures of city res­id­ents who sup­port the charter change. Uni­on mem­bers gathered many of the sig­na­tures as did coun­cil mem­bers, many of the city’s state-level elec­ted of­fi­cials and private-sec­tor uni­ons.

In Ju­ly, charter change pro­ponents dis­cussed a scen­ario by which the ref­er­en­dum could make it onto the Novem­ber gen­er­al elec­tion bal­lot. But Ken­ney’s aide, James En­gler, told the North­east Times that the May primary elec­tion is now the tar­get.

Be­fore then, the meas­ures would have to pass coun­cil’s Law and Gov­ern­ment Com­mit­tee and be read be­fore the full coun­cil on two sep­ar­ate ses­sions, En­gler said. If passed by the full coun­cil, Nut­ter might choose to veto the le­gis­la­tion, which would then re­turn to coun­cil need­ing 12 votes to over­ride the may­or. Ken­ney is look­ing for­ward to a pub­lic hear­ing on the pro­pos­al.

The Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion has said it op­poses the charter change.

“We in­tro­duced a bill to have a hear­ing and a trans­par­ent dis­cus­sion about why de­cisions were made to move for­ward the way they did,” Ken­ney said on Thursday. “We make no pre­dic­tion on the out­come of the bill be­ing in com­mit­tee or on the floor. But I think a pub­lic, open and trans­par­ent hear­ing is called for based on the amount that was spent to fight this ar­bit­ra­tion award.” 

In light of its un­suc­cess­ful ap­peals of the 2012 ar­bit­ra­tion award, the city is now on the hook for large lump-sum pay­ments to Loc­al 22 mem­bers and their health fund. Uni­on mem­bers will be paid wages ret­ro­act­ively, about $5,000 per mem­ber on av­er­age, while the city’s monthly con­tri­bu­tions in­to the health fund will jump from $1,270 per uni­on mem­ber to $1,620. Uni­on mem­bers will also start pay­ing high­er co-pay­ments for med­ic­al vis­its and pre­scrip­tions.

The Nut­ter ad­min­is­tra­tion says the 2012 ar­bit­ra­tion award will cost the city $210 mil­lion over the next five years. ••

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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